El Paso County
March 2012

Ralph Huskey, Steve & Kathy Wilkening, Loyd Beal

EL PASO COUNTY . El Paso County is the westernmost county of Texas. Its center point is 106°10' west longitude and 31°40' north latitude. Bounded on the southwest by the Rio Grande and Mexico, on the north and west by the state of New Mexico, and on the east by Hudspeth County, Texas, El Paso County is approximately 650 miles west of Dallas and 575 miles northwest of San Antonio. El Paso County and neighboring Hudspeth County are the only Texas counties on Mountain Time. The county comprises 1,057 square miles of desert and irrigated land that rises from an elevation of 3,500 feet at the Rio Grande to 7,000 feet at the summits of the Franklin Mountains. The Rio Grande valley in this area has been irrigated since prehistoric times and produces bountiful harvests of cotton, pecans, and alfalfa, and lesser amounts of numerous vegetables and fruits. Agriculture depends entirely upon irrigation from the river; the average annual rainfall is only 7.77 inches. Desert flora and fauna abound away from the river, while fertile fields and gardens flourish under irrigation. Although summer temperatures usually rise above 100° F for brief periods and have reached a peak of 112, El Paso is not one of the nation's hot spots. A pleasant altitude and low humidity make most summer days agreeable.

Although a major industrial area, El Paso County has few natural resources other than abundant sunshine and bounteous agriculture. There is no oil production, although there are two oil refineries. There is little if any mineral production, although the county has long been a trade center for Southwest mining and contains a major smelter and a major copper refinery. The county is the only county in the United States to have mined, milled, and smelted tin. The source, deposits of cassiterite in the Franklin Mountains, was found insufficient for profitable operation.

Modern El Paso County is fronted, just across the Rio Grande, with another metropolitan area, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, the largest Mexican city on the border (estimated population in 1985: 750,000). The two populations shared the experiences of Civil War in the United States and of the Mexican Revolution. The blending of two cultures is everywhere present on both sides of the border. More than 60 percent of the residents of El Paso County have Spanish surnames. In private life and in the public schools, there are constant efforts to make the population bilingual. Problems, of course, are many. Mexico, beset in the 1980s by inflation and unemployment, saw its citizens moving, legally and illegally, toward an anticipated better life in the United States. Thousands of aliens crossing the river without authorization were captured monthly and sent back to their own country, but a larger number succeeded in entering Texas. On the positive side, border commerce gives rich benefits to both countries. A relatively recent development is the "twin plants" concept, in which United States industries have twin operations in Mexico, where the labor-intensive part of the work is carried on. A large supply of skilled and unskilled labor provides El Paso with a varied industrial base. The city is one of the nation's principal centers for the manufacture of outdoor clothing and boots. Smelting, copper and oil refining, railroad operations, and a large and varied retail trade join with government and military activities to provide an ever-changing variety of employment.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Conrey Bryson, The Land Where We Live: El Paso del Norte (El Paso: Aniversario del Paso '73, 1973). Eugene O. Porter, San Elizario (Austin: Jenkins, 1973). C. L. Sonnichsen, Pass of the North: Four Centuries on the Rio Grande (2 vols., El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1968, 1980). W. H. Timmons, El Paso : A Borderlands History (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1990).